In my novel-in-progress, one of the main characters is a bearded lady nicknamed Bargie. She's huge and hairy and kind of a mystery to me so I decided I could research (read: procrastinate) by learning more about that most illustrous creature: the Bearded Lady!
First, I found a Guiness World Records entry detailing the owner of the Longest Female Beard:
"Vivian Wheeler of Wood River, Illinois, USA, grew a full beard after the death of her mother in 1990. The longest strand from the follicle to the tip of hair was measured at 27.9 cm (11 in) in 2000.
As a small child growing up, Vivian was always made to feel different. Her father insisted she started shaving at the age of 7 but this failed to stop the taunts. It was only after four marriages and her mother’s death in 1993 that she finally stopped trimming back the facial growth and let her beard grow."
Wheeler now tours with a travelling curiosity show in Illinois.
James G Mundie's Sideshow Ephemera Gallery details the story of the Baroness Sidonia de Barcsy, a member of the hungarian aristocracy who grew a full beard after the birth of her son, Little Nico, a dwarf. Political unrest in Hungary forced the family to flee to Western Europe, where, since they had little work experience, the Baron realized his family would be a perfect match for the circus:
"Having quickly turned misfortune into opportunity, the de Barcsy family was a genuine sensation with circus audiences across Europe. It could hardly have been otherwise when one family unit contained all that a circus promoter could hope for: a bearded lady of grace and charm, a 28-inch-tall dwarf son billed as "The Smallest Perfect Man on Earth", and a powerfully built patriarch who often lent his 6-foot 3-inch 400lb frame to the task of strong man. For fifteen years the family performed all over Europe, but in 1903 set sail for the greener shores of America."
The American audiences liked the family even more than the Europeans. The de Barcsy's toured with the Ringling Brothers and other top circuses in the country. When, in 1912, the Baron passed away, Sidonia married a man who would be billed as "The Long-haired Cherokee Buck Man." Unfortunately, Buck was bad with money and gambled away the family fortune until Sidonia was forced to place a classified ad that read:
"Trio seeking rewarding position — sophisticated bearded woman, of royal lineage; midget son, who does card tricks and performs on or with small animals; and wild Indian man, trick roper. Temporary financial embarrassment requires small advance. Serious only need apply."
What circus owner could possibly resist an offer like that? The owner of the Campbell Brothers Circus could not and the trio travelled shows for another 8 years until Sidonia became ill with diabetes and Buck ran off with Dollyeta Boykin, a dwarf woman billed as "The World's Smallest Mother." Sidonia died in 1925 from diabetes complications, and the rather eccentic "Captain" Nico continued touring until he retired to Drummond, a small town in Oklahoma, after developing a fear of being kidnapped.
Mundie writes: "Nicu gained a reputation as a local character who freeloaded meals from neighbors and demanded that gawking tourists pay him fifteen cents to watch his trained dog smoke a pipe. Eventually monetary problems overcame him and he was forced to seek welfare assistance. This was especially ironic in light of statements Nicu's mother had confided to certain Drummond residents: that Nicu, himself now a baron, should rightly share in the sizeable estate of an uncle in Hungary, but important papers proving his birthright had been lost in a circus fire in Illinois."
Female Faces: How Facial Hair Influences Women's Everyday Experiences by Debra Anne Beechy is an online version of a master's thesis in Humanistic and Clinic Psychology. A semi-bearded woman herself, Beechy discusses the experience of feminine facial hair, her difficulties in researching the topic, and her interviews with bearded women. The resources include links to a page about Jennifer Miller, a bearded lady, college professor, and founder of Circus Amok, a circus dubbed as "Fearless, Funky, Funny and Fundamentally Subversive."
"'The world is full of women with beards," [Jennifer Miller] says. 'Or at least they have the potential to have a beard ... instead of spending the time, and the money, on the waxing, and the shaving, and the electrolysis and the plucking. We all know someone who plucks. Pluck, pluck, pluck, as if these women were chickens!' she cries.
'Hair is a symbol of power,' Ms. Miller says. 'You've got Hair Club for Men: they all want it! It goes all the way back to Samson and his big mane of power. That's why men don’t want women to have too much of it in too many places. So, here I am, a gal with a beard, prancing around the streets of New York.'
"Step Right Up! See the Bearded Person!", a New York Times article by Dinitia Smith
Who knew Bearded ladies were so darn cool?!?